Let’s Move On

Video

I wrote this song while I was Student Body Co-President at Starr King School for the Ministry in 2012.  It was at a time when I was heavily burdened by dysfunction at the school and what I saw as dysfunction within Unitarian Universalism.  It was also during the time when I lost my mother after a long illness.  The combination of factors meant that I came to a place of reflection about what “matters” and how we hold on to past hurts and challenges and how poorly holding on to such things really serves us.  There is so much we can learn from our past, and so much more we bring to the future if we are able to actually live in the present.

This song comes from a belief in hope that eventually, the earth moves, the ice melts and things begin to flow toward justice and peace.  I am re-posting it here today in dedication to all those who have been touched by the past year of events at Starr King School.  Although I am no longer a student at the school (I transferred to Pacific School of Religion in the fall) I believe that Starr King has a place in the education of liberal religious leaders and that the institution will thrive if those who have been charged with its leadership are able to love first, find peace and most of all, move on.

Let’s move on
To somewhere we are healed
Somewhere we can meet each other face to face
Let’s move on to somewhere brighter.

Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,

Let go of guilt, let go of pity,
Selfish tears are never pretty
Let’s heal the wound and move on.

Let’s move up
Above the heavy clouds
Above the blessed rains that come and bring us truth.
Let’s move up
And catch our rainbow.

Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,

Let go of pain, let go of sorrow,
Holding the past won’t bring you tomorrow.
Let’s heal the wound and move on.

Let’s move out
And breathe the air of joy
Inside we never smell the fragran scent of peace
Let’s move out, and find our future.

Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,
Let’s move on,

Don’t keep on repeating how you’ve been living
Bring something new to how you’ve been giving
Let’s heal the wound and move on.

Body

adam_2In the Fall of 2003 I was asked to be a model for P90X.  It is now the world’s best selling workout DVD.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, there’s a link at the bottom of this page.  At that time, I was in the midst of a grand personal experiment.  I had come to Los Angeles at the end of a national tour determined to be “LA Adam.”  When I started the experiment, I wasn’t actually sure what that meant.  But I knew one thing for sure, it involved having what I called the “LA Body.”  This was a body that would always be camera ready, shaved, sculpted and looking 10 – 15 years younger than it actually was.  Prior to the LA body, I had lived with people commenting on my body as a dancer, for its shape and definition and flexibility; sometimes, welcome, sometimes not.  The most disturbing and regular comment on my body was “you black guys, never have to work out” or “you all look like that” or “dark skin always makes someone look better” or some variation on that theme.  I will happily admit that my parents gave me some good clay to work with, but it was up to me as to what I did with that clay. The idea that my body simply appeared the way it did is naive to say the least.  I started exercising when I was about ten or eleven.  I secretly did hours of ballet exercises in my basement throughout high school.  My freshman year of college, I spent more time in a dance studio than I did in class and then throughout the rest of college, the gym was my refuge from feeling like an outsider.  This past year is the longest I’ve gone in 30 years without a gym membership or regular access to an exercise facility of some kind…only because I spend so much time blogging…but I still, run, do pushups and situps and ride my bike to work.  Yeah, my body just happens because I’m black!

Black men and women have been objectified since day one in America.  Being paraded, proded and peddled as livestock meant we had to have strong bones and teeth, good backs and healthy genitals for breeding.  Stories of auction block antics surrounding the treatment of slaves would disgust most of you so I will let you explore that on your own (see links below.)  But it is that same history that expects us to be good athletes and day laborers and not necessarily bookish and un-athletic.  It is the same history that is behind racial profiling and is history that sits behind the assumptions about Trayvon Martin’s physical ability to inflict harm on George Zimmerman. Black women who are called “Brown Sugar”, black men who are called “Mandingo”…these and the dumb jock mentality are gross assumptions and the worst kind of stereotypes because the black community has frequently adopted them as well.  Blacks have played into a self objectification that makes us out to be nothing more than collection of wildly exaggerated body parts.

It has been a very dicey business for me personally to separate just what is the perverse racially motivated fascination with black bodies in America and what is the perverse fascination with sexuality in America in general.  Living at those crossroads is at times unbearable.  How do you know if someone is going out with you because they like you or because they want to sleep with the ‘P90X Ab Guy’ or because they are expecting nothing short of a sexual freak when they get in your pants?  Or how do you know if that same fascination isn’t just part of the whole “body=sex” equation here in the US?

Simply, you don’t.

I’d love to see us change the dialogue about how we not only talk about black bodies, but how we talk about ALL bodies.  Objectification, racialization, gendering…these are all aggressions we throw at each other, sometimes all too casually.  This fall I will be teaching a course at the Starr King School for the Ministry, In Your Hands: The Language, Ethics and Spirituality of Touch.  My hope is that in this class I can lay the groundwork for changing the game.  When I think of racially motivated violence, both physical and verbal, it is very clear to me that people are only capable of doing these things if they have never been intimate (in the platonic sense) with someone who looks different than they do.  I also believe that faith community leaders have a unique power to introduce a new language of touch.  The crimes of the Catholic church in abusing this power, show just how much power really exists in the ability to influence how someone sees their body.  Repulsively, this power was used by certain members of the Catholic church to horrific ends.  If we only punish them, no matter how severely, they have still won.  We must make a concerted effort to not only make sure those crimes don’t happen again, but to establish a new way to communicate through touch.  The answer is not to eliminate touch…that is inhuman.  The answer is in exploring the deeper meaning of touch as it relates to our physical identity, sense of physical well being and creating a language of liberated body justice where we can not only touch one another, but we can enjoy what that means, without fear or threat.  Imagine a room full of gang members (of any race), or people who hate one another, or total strangers, who are put in a room and simply asked to hold hands…no words.  The potential is tremendous, if we do the tough work…exploring our fears about touch, bodies and physical intimacies.  Faith communities have been vilified in terms of how they view the body and how they use the body.  If faith communities and spiritual people can lead the way to reclaim touch and body awareness, we literally can change the world.

P90X

Starr King School for the Ministry Course Descriptions (mine is at the bottom)

Slave Auction History 1

Slave Auction History 2

Slave Auction History 3

Slave Auction History 4

Say Hello to Love

This week when my friend and professor Dr. Gabriella Lettini posted a link to a Huffington Post article by Marilyn Sewell titled “Saying Goodbye to Tolerance” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilyn-sewell/saying-goodbye-to-tolerance_b_1976607.html), I was very excited.  Earlier this week, I had used Rev. Sewell’s words  in the Starr King School for the Ministry chapel service:

The shadow side of our free faith, with its ultimate measure being the individual conscience, is seen when we interpret that freedom as simply “freedom from” and not “freedom for.”*

And I love her observation about Unitarian Universalism that “we are a religious movement that no longer takes religion seriously.”

But as I continued to read the article, I found my attitude shifting.  I was struck by what sounded like the same diatribe I hear time and again from bitter ex-Christians in UU congregations who rant about Christianity (and that is clearly reflected in the affirming comments on this article…ex: “I hate xtianity even as I “love” the xtian.”)  Of course Marilyn Sewell is a bit different on this front.  She was raised a Baptist and clearly and frequently references her Christian roots.  But someone from her particular position making the statements contained in this article seems like giving red meat to the anti-Christian lions among UUs. “If she is against Christianity…”  In all fairness, Rev. Sewell is very clear through most of the article that she is specifically talking about conservative evangelical Christians, although she occasionally drops both the words “conservative” and “evangelical” at times, so I get the impression she is trying to make a distinction of sorts.  But then she invoked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy … was not the strident clamor of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people.”

These are deeply prophetic words and quite possibly Rev. Sewell finds her justification in using them in a call for intolerance toward conservative evangelical Christians because King used similar words in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which is a rallying cry to not wait for the “inevitable” but rather to play an active role in creating change.  But I think she’s missed one important point, as do some Unitarian Universalists and other liberals.  That is the point of love.  And that is a point that was at the core of every action, every word and every deed that was carried out by Martin Luther King, Jr.

My purpose with this blog is to show the link between our spirituality and our bodies.  I work with all kinds of bodies: large, small, fit, healthy, ailing, old, young.  As I touch someone’s body, or as I ask them to move with their body, I witness the greatest motivating factor that we have in our human existence: that is the power of love (pardon the 80’s cliché.)  I would never ask a client to hate or be intolerant of their fat.  I would never ask a client to battle their tense neck.  The best trainers and therapists understand that you must ask people to meet their challenges head on, without judgement, with total love and appreciation accepting the challenge as part of the totality of who we are.  For it is only without judgement that we can elicit change in ourselves…both physically and emotionally.  If we are able to have enough tolerance with our failings to understand where they come from, we are able to find a way to confront them honestly and clearly.  I believe it is very much the same with the “body” of human kind.

MLK said in his sermon “Loving Your Enemies” (Montgomery, AL, 1957), “hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe.”  Just as Rev. Sewell states that oppression is a continuum, I would argue that hatred of any kind, whether it be in violent action or mild intolerance, is just as much of a continuum.  Those Unitarian Universalists, existing in a head centered cloud of “me-ligion” may have a lot of trouble grasping what I am trying to convey here, but I guarantee you that even the most conservative southern Baptist understands that we are nothing and nowhere without love.  Dr. King’s sermon uses the word “love” 95 times.  He goes on at length about the Greek words for love…describing where love can come from, and the power inherent in love…both in regard to Jesus Christ and to all people in general.  He is not afraid to base his theology and his hopes for a better world on love.  This is the corner stone of Dr. King’s radical philosophy and it comes from his personal relationship with Christianity.  Reverend Sewell uses the word “love” only twice…once in the quote “hate the sin, love the sinner” and then as a verb speaking of same sex love.  She never once asks us to explore what happens when we abandon tolerance.  She never gives us the chance to confront the sickness in the body of our common humanity.  Where is the love that compels us to want more from those who hate us and would kill us?  This is what was appalling to Martin Luther King, Jr. when he spoke of the silence of the “good people.”

I call on Rev. Sewell, our Unitarian Universalist communities and people of all religions and non-religions to start where Dr. King started, with love: love and compassion for ourselves, and our failings and our limitations and even love for our intolerances.  I do not pretend that Christianity or any organized religion is innocent and pure.  Certainly, hate crimes are carried out  by people who claim to be acting in the name of Jesus Christ.  These are despicable acts.  They are crimes that deserve punishment and protection from perpetuation.  But it is more important to understand that these criminals have supplanted love with fear.  The real battle for the “silent good people” is to start with unconditional and transformative love.  It is impossible for some, but Dr. King asked us to try.  That was the beauty of his vision.

“Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.” – MLK

I have chosen to be a part of a religious community, although many of my friends do not desire to be part of religious communities.  I also have people in my life that do not believe in my politics or civil rights for my sexual orientation.  But in my world, I must find a way to love them all for as Dr. King says, “hate destroys the hater as well as the hated” and my goal is to build a healthy world that ultimately thrives and communicates based on love.

I am glad Dr. Lettini brought this article to my attention.  She is a radical liberal Christian theologian who I admire and who I know understands the power of basing theology and social justice in love.  In closing I say to Reverend Sewell that I am grateful for her insights in this article and her other writing and sermons I have heard her preach.  But, in response to our many “shadow sides” I would ask that we all strive to light a chalice so that it casts no shadows shining bright with the light of love.

*Unitarian Universalists: Who Are We? What Do We Aspire to Be?,” a presentation at the 2011 Minns Lectures by Marilyn Sewell

Text – Loving Your Enemies
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957

Audio – http://archive.org/details/MlkOnLovingYourEnemies-trueLove101

Dr. Gabriella Lettini is Dean of Faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry and co-author of the book Soul Repair http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13532187-soul-repair